Tag Archives: tasting menu

Next | Terroir, West Loop, Chicago

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The meal starts off with an upsell for a chance to add a white truffle risotto to the menu since it’s white truffle season. 6g of white truffle for $125 extra. No thank you, I don’t like truffles enough for this.

The first wines featured are a 2007 Pinot Noir (Domaine François Mikulski, Volnay 1er cru Santenots du Milieu) and a 2009 Chardonnay (Domaine Hubert Lamy St. Aubin, 1er cru Clos de la Châtenière) from Burgundy, France, where the concept of terroir all started. The wine was paired with a large assortment of amuse-bouches, the most memorable being a crostini with nasturtium and parmesan (the parmesan was very noticeable), and a cone shaped bite of caramelized onion with chicken skin and heart. The chicken heart was made into a mousse so the flavor was there without any of the tough texture. The Chardonnay had a lot more depth than the ones I’ve had previously. I enjoyed the Pinot Noir though I wished there was more of it to pair with other foods.

Whipped honey and prosciutto. #nextterrior

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Flaxseed, cabbage, beer. #nextrestaurant #nextterroir

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Next came three different Chenin Blancs from Loire, France 2014, Santa Ynez, California 2013, Swartland, South Africa 2013. The same grapes from three different regions to showcase terroir. The Loire was sweetest, while the Santa Ynez was just kind of mild (my least favorite), and the Swartland tasted like it had a bit more depth and complexity in flavor. The food pairing was sturgeon with scallions and iterations of peanut. There were crispy peanuts, and a more buttery peanut which was almost like a white bean. Together it created a play on homemade peanut butter. The scallions were torched to crispiness. The sturgeon piece looked almost like a scallop and had a surprising texture (tender but firm). All of the ingredients worked well together for a great dish.

Chenin blanc from all parts of the globe #nextrestaurant #nextterroir #winewednesday #fiveoclock #cheninblanc #chicago

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We are next presented with a 2007 red wine (Le Vigne di Zamó Schioppettino) from Friuli, Italy. They said this wine has been paired with barley for over 800 years. The food pairing was consommé of barley with arugula dumpling filled with montasio cheese. My friends didn’t like the wine at all, saying it was far too acidic. Surprisingly this was one of my favorite wines and I only noticed the acidity as a unique flavor profile. Perhaps my continual consumption of coffee has really altered my taste receptors. So this was a very interesting show of how different palate perceptions are. The consommé was a bit salty and the barley very fibrous; the dumpling with cheese was the best part.

Barley and bitter greens. #nextterroir #friuli #nextrestaurant

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Next came a very sweet Riesling (Balthasar Ress Riseling Spätlese) from Rheingau, Germany 1997. I prefer red wines and less sweet whites so this wine was not a favorite… for now. The food pairing was squab with beets done 5(!) ways and sliced fennel. The beets were grated into slivers and fried, sliced into disks, made into something similar to chutney, and two different purees. I love beets, and this really highlighted all their flavors. The two purees tasted different, one more creamy whereas the other distilled the essence of beet flavor into a sauce. Underneath the beets were pieces of squab. I have never had squab before and was very surprised to find the texture of the meat was much more tender than any chicken breast.

Squab and beets coming off of @r23jorge station. #nextterroir #nextrestaurant

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For the next course, there was no new wine but rather a refill of the same Riesling. The most crazy and memorable dish of the evening appeared in front of us. Pear cider within a bleu cheese-­infused white-­chocolate shell, presented on a forest­ floor bed of moss over dry ice (the white smoke representing the coastal layer). Pear and bleu cheese is a wonderful classic pairing and this was the Alinea group at its best: the pear juices pop into your mouth as you bite into the shell, and there is cheese infused everywhere. And then we drank the Riesling again, and it was no longer too sweet. In fact it was a perfect pairing, and really showcased how much a proper food pairing can change our senses.

Liquid pear in blue cheese shell. #nextterroir #nextrestaurant

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Krug Grande Cuvée from Champagne, France MV served first in a flute and then in a wine glass to show how glassware affects taste. Paired with potato chips, onion, creme fraiche (a fancy chips and dip). The top of the dish lifted up to reveal another course: osetra caviar over a cake with bits of popcorn. This dish was then lifted once again to reveal a popcorn and brown butter soup. The soup tasted like popcorn, which is mostly butter anyways. Perhaps my least favorite pairing because the dishes made the Champagne taste even more bitter. I’m not a Champagne person and this hasn’t convinced me otherwise. The soup was quite good though.

Now we try another Riesling (Von Winning from Pfalz, Germany 2013), which is supposed to be less sweet and more earthy. I am never quite sure what earthy tastes like but I got an inkling here. This was amplified by the pairing with lion’s mane mushroom, maitake mushroom, bison from North Dakota, and truffled soil (black truffle, breadcrumbs, etc). I’ve seen lion’s mane mushroom before preparation and it looks crazy. It was my first time tasting it and I’m a big fan. The truffle flavor in the soil was subtle, which I prefer (black truffle is so distinctive I don’t need to be hit over the head with it) and the soil provided nice texture.

Spooning black truffles table side for the bison and mushroom course. #nextrestaurant #nextterroir

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We now have a Bodegas Viñátigo Gual (white wine) from Yeoden Daute Isora, Canary Islands Spain 2013. The grapes are grown near volcanic soil and the wine is described as tasting “funky”. I agree, there is definitely a certain tropical, funky taste to the wine, and I enjoyed it. I usually am not excited by hamachi, but this seared hamachi tartare with cilantro, basil, ginger, fermented gooseberry was amazing. It looks like a whole piece of meat, but we are given only a fork and spoon, no knife, which is a hint that the meat must be super tender. And indeed it is a tartare, with the meat offering no resistance as you spoon it up. The fish is seared on one side, which provided really interesting flavors [that I cannot find the words to quantify]. One of the most surprising and delicious courses of the meal.

Seared hamachi tartar with corianders and basil. #nextTerroir

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I think my friends and I all agreed if we had to choose one wine, this would be our favorite of the night: Kathryn Kennedy “Small Lot” Cabernet Sauvignon from Santa Cruz Mountains, California 2012. Cabernet Sauvignon is probably the most popular wine out there, so there is a sense of familiarity, but this is the best Cabernet Sauvignon you can possibly have. Far more depth and complexity, full bodied without overpowering. Just the perfect red wine. And you would expect red wines to be paired with big pieces of meat, but instead we are presented with a large plate of pine needles, smoking rocks, artichoke leaves, snail shells, but only a small central egg cup of sauteed snail, artichoke puree, snail caviar, fried bread is edible. And it worked. Just the right amount of flavors to help us enjoy the wine. Here’s a picture, but the Eucalyptus leaves below have been replaced by pine needles:

We are now transplanted to the Rhone Valley in France with a 2006 Syrah (Domaine Lionnet “Terre Brûlée” Cornas). The food is presented in a dome, which is then lifted to waft rosemary scented smoke at you. Tempura lamb, lamb rillete, lamb jus, charred carrot slices (the best taking carrot I’ve ever had), and two small cubes of very dark chocolate “pudding”. The lamb was good (and one of the few rilletes I like) but I will remember that little cube of chocolate forever. The two courses above were both heavily terroir driven, and I loved it.

Smoke veg for our Rhone (Syrah) course #nextterroir #nextrestaurant. @bornburgundy

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We begin the dessert courses with a very old 1971 Madeira wine (D’Oliveiras Terrantez). It is very sweet like most madeiras and ports, but there is a edge of sourness that comes from the age. Molasses cake, bay leaf, cottage cheese, orange zest, ricotta, banana was delicious.

For the finale, we have another dessert wine (Chateau Pajkos Tokaji 5 Puttonyos) from Hungary, 2006. The final dessert in a tasting menu often strongly impacts my overall experience, and this dessert was stunning. Caramelized white chocolate branches (almost like confetti), ice wine tea cookie, flan ice cream. I am out of words to describe this. It was a visual delight, and every bite was delicious. I think this ties for best dessert of my life.

Looks like @dcberan is drawing inspiration from #funfetti. Ice wine tea, flan, caramelized white chocolate, saffron.

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And so we reach the end. I enjoyed every dish, and all courses were made to a shockingly high level of intricacy and detail. I would rate this as the best tasting menu I’ve ever had. While Alinea might have a few more single memorable dishes, there were some I did not enjoy or too many distractions on one plate. As a cohesive meal, I cannot ask for more than this dinner at Next. That being said, I would still have a hard time justifying the incredibly daunting price tag. Would I do it all over again though? Yes.

For an official review that more accurate describes all the dishes, see Phil Vettel’s 4 star review in the Chicago Tribune.

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Yam’Tcha, Paris, France

I called Yam’Tcha three weeks ago on a whim, not expecting to get a reservation because it is extremely difficult to book. The Saturday hours were also unclear from the Internet, so I was surprised when I managed to get a table for lunch on Saturday (opens at noon). I am particular interested in Yam’Tcha because it serves Franco-Chinois cuisine. These are my two favorite cuisines overall, so I was very interested to see how Chef Adeline Grattard combined them.

Arriving, I was seated comfortably on a “couch” of sorts: a bench that ran along the wall comfortably padded with cushions. The decor perfectly managed the elegant sophistication of a Michelin starred restaurant with the calming simplicity of a teahouse. I was informed that the 60€ lunch menu was not available on Saturday, so I had to get the 120€ full tasting menu (changes daily). I also elected to get the 40€ tea pairing because it’s highly recommended on the internet. The chef’s husband Chiwah is the tea expert.

Starter of light oolong from Taiwan

Sichuanese cucumber salad (tofu, sesame, Sichuan chili flakes) — Flavors were very Asian and familiar, a nice starter.

Sea bream tartare with citrus sauce Green tea from Jiangxi — The fish was fresh and texture was good, but something about the sauce wasn’t quite right for me.

Lobster soup, scallions Oolong from Taiwan — Very generous with lobster meat, kind of an upgrade of egg drop soup. I did not feel like the lobster was used to it’s full potential here.

Steamed turbot, squid, mussels, emulsion ‘fu yu’ (fermented bean curd), Chinese spinach Pu’er from Yunnan — The turbot was cooked nicely and the texture was good, but somehow the ‘fu yu’ or some unlisted ingredient didn’t pair well with the fish. However the ‘fu yu’ emulsion combined with the squid and mussels worked extremely well; that was the best bite of seafood I’ve had in Paris.

Scottish langoustine with coconut Marsala sauce, purple basil — Very reminiscent of Thai curry, it was tasty.

Fillet of veal with Shiitake mushrooms, cream of Shaoxing wine, black vinegar Oolong “rock” tea from Fujian — The sauce is apparently a favorite specialty of the chef, used in various dishes on the rotating menu. But I found it very familiar! The entire dish tasted quite similar to some pork dishes I make (e.g., Richard Olney’s pork chops with mustard cream and apples): the cream sauce traditionally calls for red wine but I usually use Shaoxing instead because I don’t have red wine on hand in the kitchen. This dish really gave me more confidence to go ahead with substitutions in the kitchen when I’m cooking French recipes. Experiment!

Bao (bun/brioche) with Stilton blue cheese filling and cherry Lighter Pu’er from Yunnan — The waiter asked if I wanted cheese before dessert and I was hesitating because I wasn’t sure if it was included in the menu (it is). But he said if I like cheese, this “cheese” is highly recommended. So I got the cheese, and a few minutes later, a bao is presented in front of me! When it was revealed that the inside of the bao contains cheese, I could not stop smiling. This is really what it means to combine French and Chinese cuisine! Before the meal had been “good food” but I wasn’t blown away, but this dish just elevated the entire meal to the ‘amazing’ category.

Two desserts side by side: Hazelnut ice cream over thin wafers sandwiching Physalis fruit / mirabelles with wine-flavored cubes Oolong from Guangzhou — The first dessert was the best I’ve had in Paris. The hazelnut paired very well with the Physalis, which I’m not sure I’ve eaten before but has an “Asian taste” to it. The tea was also my favorite, very fruity and with honey notes. The only tea in the pairing I wasn’t familiar with.

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Firstly, I do not think the tea pairing is worth it. It did not enhance the flavors of the food for me. I have also drunk all of the teas besides the last dessert tea in copious amounts at home, so the flavors were nothing new. I’d recommend it only if you haven’t tried a lot of Chinese teas before and want a guided tour of the most common types.

The food was very good. It is still primarily French in style (as it should be), using fresh French ingredients with a lean towards seafood. The Chinese influence was more clearly present in later dishes, but I would say there are clear Japanese and Thai components (e.g., the tartare and langoustine). The cooking was all done expertly and tasted great. However, aside from the bao, which I am in love with, the rest of the food did not bring the new dimension of taste that I was hoping to experience in a Franco-Chinois combination. The meal did give me the push to try to find these new combinations in my own kitchen.

It was a very pleasant meal in a uniquely designed restaurant. Before I decide whether it’s worth coming back though, I’m going to stuff my face with baos at boutique Yam’Tcha first.

L’Arpège, Paris, France

The first restaurant that I booked for this Paris trip and the only 3 Michelin star restaurant I considered a must visit, L’Arpège is No. 12 on the S. Pellegrino 2015 World’s Best Restaurants list. But my fanaticism towards L’Arpège started before I even knew the restaurant name. I was recommended Alain Passard’s cookbook The Art of Cooking with Vegetables as an introduction to Contemporary French cuisine. Steadily working my way through the book (which is ordered by the season), I am nearly halfway through. Cooking his recipes, I felt like I understood what Passard was trying to do a little better, and I couldn’t wait to taste the real deal.

I got the lunch tasting menu, which has no fixed items and allows the chef total freedom to use the ingredients of the day (shipped from his own farm). It is also the steal of the century. More on that later. I had very high hopes going into this meal, and let me spoil the ending: it was glorious.

Menu “Le Déjeuner des Jardiniers”

  • Amuse-bouche: vegetable tartelettes (quince, celery, apple)
  • Second amuse-bouche: puff pastry with swiss chard
  • House-made bread with butter — The freshest butter ever, the texture looks freshly churned. I found it a little salty at first, but as it softened I got used to it. Bread is given one slice at a time, but the waiters are quick to replenish when you’re finished.
  • Gaspacho (tomato) with celery & moutarde d’Orléans ice cream — The gaspacho is standard, but then the scoop of celery mustard ice cream has that spark of genius that just makes you smile.
  • Beetroot in gel of sweet wine and cacao — I ate this in one big bite. The mix of sweet wine with acidity and the cacao in the gel is again unusual yet delicious.
  • Multicolored vegetable ravioli with celery consommé — the celery juice was a little bitter for me, but the raviolis were great and showed the wide range you can achieve using vegetables as the star ingredients.
  • Red pepper soup with a spoonful of ham flavored cream — how crazy is ham flavored mascarpone?!
  • Beetroot sushi — a very colorful (red edge, yellow interior) slice of beetroot on sushi rice with fig oil. A signature dish, wonderful to look at, tasted delicious.
  • Onion gratin topped with quince — shredded onions are completely caramelized to achieve wonderful sweetness in this gratin.
  • Baby cabbage wrapped shrimp in Parmesan soup
  • Tomato pie with zucchini flower — the waiter said this was his favorite dish and I would have to agree. Tomato and zucchini flower on pastry. This is where having your own farm of super fresh ingredients really shines. The tomato is fresh with a fantastical seasoning of basil and other fresh herbs. I tried to decide if cheese would have improved this, but concluded that it is better without, allowing the freshness of the ingredients to come through.
  • Thinly sliced pear and mushrooms — very thinly sliced and layered, with a sprinkle of fleur de sel to bring out flavors.
  • Beetroot tartare with horseradish cream — signature dish, some fresh cilantro and dill as garnish. First time I’ve ever liked dill (freshness is super important).
  • Mashed potato with coulis of red wine — incredibly creamy mashed potatoes, the coulis was a little too acidic for me as I’m sensitive to wine, but the worked with the potatoes.
  • Squid with minestrone of vegetables — the tentacle was okay, but the squid rings together with seasoning, vegetables, and copious olive oil was very enjoyable.
  • Dover sole, celery purée, white wine sauce/foam, chives — finally getting dover sole that’s properly cooked and not breaded. The meat is firm yet tender, skin intact, thick fillet. But the standout was the purée which had a really nice flavor. I had to ask the waiter again what it was made of — it tastes nothing like celery.
  • Mignardise — a very generous assortment of little sweets. Confusing that it was served before the desserts.
  • Pastry with ice cream and (separate) cherry tomato stuffed with rhubarb (I think?) 
  • Vanilla ice cream puffs
  • Puff pastry with apple and raspberry filling
  • Crème caramel 

Everything about the meal was fun. The restaurant has a cheery environment, with friendly waiters. I was seated at 12pm when they open, and the restaurant was full by 12:30pm. The waiters move around fluidly, maintaining a consistent level of service deserving of 3 star status. It was amusing to see waiters in suits walk outside with raw eggplants and leeks in their hands. Alain Passard himself was constantly in the dining room like a jolly giant, chatting with local diners, and later bringing desserts out of the kitchen. My only disappointment is that I don’t know French — Passard was chatting with all the locals and exchanging a few words with some of the French speaking visitors (I don’t think he speaks English). I got a “Ça va mon ami” but I wish I could have chatted with him!

The meal lasted over 3 hours, with close to 20 dishes. The lunch menu is truly at the chef’s whim — I saw some people with the same menu get different dishes from me, probably whatever the kitchen was cooking at the moment. And the food! No dish disappointed, and each one had that little sparkle of genius that puts a smile on your face as you devour it. The desserts were fairly ordinary but maybe because by that time I was getting tired of eating. ME! The lunch menu is an absolute steal as it’s between 1/2 and 1/3 of the price of the fixed tasting menu, depending on which one you get. And I didn’t get any less courses than those with fixed tastings, just different ones that were more vegetable centric or less signature.

I go into many tasting menus with high expectations, and honestly this is the only one that has by far exceeded my expectations. I will be coming back for the lunch menu every time I’m in Paris from now on.

Mirazur, Menton, France

The main event of today was lunch at Mirazur, which is No. 11 on the San Pellegrino 2015 World’s Best Restaurants list. I took the regional train from Nice to Menton Garavan station (I was originally going to take the cheaper bus 100, but I realized in the morning that Mirazur is quite far (30 min walk) from the main bus/train station.

My reservation was for 12:15 but I arrived at the location before 11am to get breakfast and coffee. Since I was right at the France-Italy border, I wanted to try the fabled “coffee in Italy, breakfast in France” joke/myth. Surprisingly (thank EU) there is no passport control at the boundary. There is a large police station, but the cops just smile and say “Bonjour” as you pass. about 2 minutes after passing the border, there is a “bar” by the side of the highway. I ordered a cappuccino and a cafe (espresso). This made the owner slightly surprised, but I hadn’t had coffee yet that morning, and I am an addict. The cappuccino had a thick dense foam (no latte art here) with some cocoa powder sprinkled on top. The foam is the traditional Italian style, and it really did taste much better than the cafe cremes served in France. The espresso had a wider range of flavor but it was on the very dark side, and I must say it didn’t taste that much better than the ones in France. Perhaps I am too biased, but I do think “Third/New Wave” espresso in the US is the best. To complete the dream though, I walked back to France and bought a croissant. This was quite possibly my ultimate romantic dream of European slice of life. The view of Menton at the border is also one of the best in all the Cote d’Azur:

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Finally, it was time for lunch. I got the “First Tracks” (80€) menu rather than the larger 120€ menu since I just wanted a nice meal and not a full tasting menu.

Amuse-bouche Fried sardine and lemon confit, Macaron with black pudding filling and slice of Granny Smith apple, Beetroot jelly and goat cheese.

The small fried sardine was crunchy while the lemon was subtle and paired well without being overpowering as I often find lemon juice in fish recipes. The macaron shell was like those asian shrimp chips (very airy).

Oyster Cream of shallot, pear, tapioca, pear juice

A huge whole oyster that was beautiful to behold and eat. The pear was light and everything emphasized the freshness of the ingredients, which is what this restaurant is all about.

Sharing bread 

Recipe from the Chef’s grandmother. Served right out the oven with a local olive oil that was ginger infused. I didn’t like the ginger in the olive oil so much, but the bread was good.

Squid Bagna Cauda

Calamari sliced into thin linguini with a squid ink chip, artichoke, and artichoke puree. There was also a garlic butter sauce. The calamari was tougher, but this was intentional (also slightly charred) as the whole dish was like eating a pasta excellent with the seafood element inherent to the dish. Very creative.

Saint Pierre Pimprenelle, dark garlic puree

This was the dish that ruined the meal. Saint Pierre (or John Dory depending on who you ask) was presented skin side up. Beautiful looking but then I tried to cut the skin with my knife…and it was impervious! The flesh was also stuck to the skin, a sign of undercooked fish. I had to saw the flesh off to eat. The dark garlic puree and onion was good on the side. The dark garlic is garlic that has been fermented at the bottom of the sea (Japanese technique). The more I think about it, the more I think I should have called the waiter to send this dish back to the kitchen. This kind of basic technique flaw is unacceptable at a 2 star restaurant. I just did not have the brazenness to do so at the time. I wanted to complain afterwards, but the waiter simply asked “Did you enjoy the fish?” while already whisking away the plate and about to leave. All I could reply was “Thank you” begrudgingly.

Challans duck Plums and red shiso, vanilla

It was hard to recover from the previous course but I tried to be open minded. The duck is a thin slice, with some plum compote on the side, and a sauce made from the duck’s own juices. I am never a fan of duck dishes on tasting menus, as I find the thin slice does not give enough of the crispy skin that makes a magret de canard great. This was about as good as a duck pairing in such a small portion can get though. The last bite of compote had a nice presence of vanilla, which I had forgotten was announced as one of the ingredients.

Cheese plate This cost 19€ extra, but I could not resist the cheese cart (yes a cart of cheese is wheeled to your table) of a Michelin restaurant experience. I wasn’t sure how much I could select or how the pricing worked, so I only selected 4, one a specialty of Provence, another soft slightly strong one from Burgundy, a goat cheese, and Gorgonzola blue. The Gorgonzola was my favorite.

Indian fig vanilla cream

Fig flavored shredded ice over a vanilla cream.

Naranjo en Flor Saffron, almond foam, orange sorbet

Almond foam (dense) over orange sorbet with a thin saffron flavored wafer on top.

Tartlet coffee, parsnip, pistachio | Grapes


 

I was quite looking forward to this meal as the pinnacle of Cote d’Azur cuisine. There is a lot of hype on the internet and I haven’t seen any negative reviews. But I must say I was severely disappointed. The amuse and entree were creative while respecting the freshness of ingredients, but the mains and dessert did not impress. And that fucking fish.

The seafood I had in Copenhagen was much more impressive. Who would have thought that New Nordic Cuisine would prepare fish better than Mediterranean Cuisine?

Some people around me were having the longer full tasting menu, which looked like it had more creative dishes (and the fish was a different species). But I expect the chef to be able to show his vision even in a 6-course menu, or at the least not make rookie mistakes. The service was also very stiff, which might be the norm in France. Dress code was very casual: I saw some people wearing faded jeans, shorts, flip-flops (don’t do this, have some self respect).

The view was great, and going to Italy for coffee made my day. I guess if you come here get the full tasting menu to avoid mediocrity, but I really can’t say I think this place deserves either 2 Michelin stars or it’s World’s Best Restaurant ranking.

Amass Restaurant, Copenhagen, Denmark

The main reason for my visit to Copenhagen was to experience New Nordic cuisine, and Amass was my topic priority of the trip. I’ll admit that I chose Amass because I didn’t manage to get a seat at Noma, and various sources suggested Amass as a very good alternative (at 1/3 the price!). In particular, it is featured on the New York Times 36 Hours in Copenhagen article. The head chef, Matt Orlando, previously worked at Per Se, The Fat Duck, and most recently as head chef at Noma. At the time of my visit, Amass is No. 66 on the S. Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants list.

Amass is located very out of the way, far from any of the usually frequented locations in Copenhagen. I took a bus and then walked 15 minutes to get there. Nobody would come here by accident! The 0th (ground) floor has a window showing the kitchen; you walk up the stairs to enter on the 1st floor, then proceed to go back downstairs to the dining area. The restaurant space is large, cavernous, and gives an overall laid-back atmosphere. Throughout the meal I was served by multiple people, more than half of whom were actually chefs delivering the plates straight out of the kitchen, which is quite a unique and fun concept. Since this was the highlight of my trip, I figured I might as well get the extended menu. I eat pretty quickly, and the service kept the pace very well. The waits between courses were short, and my meal lasted from 12:30-3:00pm.

Extended Menu

Corn, Fermented Cep, Rose Hip Vinegar

The corn, creme fraiche, and vinegar was blended in a cream and served with bits of tapioca chips infused with fermented cep on top. The sweetness of the corn was present and balanced the acidity of the vinegar.

Fresh bread with topping of fermented potato, chopped cabbage, fava been puree, fennel

The bread (listed elsewhere on the menu as fermented flatbread) came wrapped in a blanket, steaming hot. The inside was very soft, almost like pizza dough. The topping had a distinct fermented taste. Overall it’s like a European version of the fermented turnips and porridge I sometimes eat for breakfast, although I am still finding the taste of fennel a little usual.

Fresh Clam with foam of clam juice, chopped rhubarb, fermented vegetable

This dish is part of the extended menu, and it was served to me by Chef Orlando himself (although I didn’t recognize him until later). He mentioned the foam also had some kind of dry aged beef juice but I didn’t quite catch it. Served in the clam shell. Unfortunately I was not a fan of this: the fermented vegetable was quite strong and overpowered the actual clam, so the freshness of the clam itself did not shine through.

Tomatoes, White Currants, Juniper Oil

Copenhagen doesn’t have the climate for tomatoes, so they said these were farmed in a greenhouse by some friends of the restaurant with a bio-farm. They said they looked really hard to find the best tomatoes in Denmark! The tomatoes were slightly dried (at the restaurant), served with tomato water, a hint of vinegar, blackberry, roasted fennel. The tomatoes were quite tasty, with some extra acidity due to the vinegar. The tomato water was quite good; it reminded me of the juice at the bottom of a salad, except balanced so that the vinegar wasn’t too strong.

Salted Mackerel, Peas, Burnt Lemon

The peas were fermented, which gave a distinctive flavor (almost a little like mustard/wasabi). The mackerel was tender, served with seared skin. But again I found the fermented peas to actually detract from the taste of the fish.

Beet Root, Sour Curd, Mugwort, Pickled Yarrow Flowers

Perhaps my favorite dish of the meal. The beets were semi-dehydrated (roasted), which gave it a slightly chewier (like dried fruit) texture that worked really well. It was also served with something sweet sprinkled on top, which made it even tastier.

Beef Heart with brown butter, wild mushroom, red currant, flowers

(Extended menu course) The beef heart was very tender — I think it was just lightly sautéed. Texture more like tripe than the more rubbery heart I’d have expected. The currant provided a necessary brightness, while the butter added some nuttiness.

Organic Pork Neck, Grains, Walnut, Unripe Apples

A welcome change from pork belly, which I feel is a bit ubiquitous at the moment. Cooked so the meat was quite tender, everything worked well. The walnut was in cream form. I only realized after I finished the dish that it was so easy to eat without any heaviness due to the unripe apples, which provided the necessary sourness to cut through the rest of the flavors.

Fresh Cream, Caramelized Goat Milk, Dried Carrots

(Extended) This was like a mini Yorkshire pudding (or an open faced macaron), with the wispy cream mounded to hide the dried carrot pieces. Really great, the carrots provided texture, and carrots and goat milk added sweetness.

Wild Blueberries, New Potato Ice Cream, Dried Vinegar

Potato ice cream really tasted a little like potato, and it wasn’t sweet so the blueberries and vinegar stood out. The ice cream was topped with thin wafers made of whey (and maybe potatoes?), with powdered dried sweet vinegar sprinkled on top. The powder really tasted strongly of vinegar, but it paired fairly well with the ice cream.

Rosemary Pound Cake, rhubarb and olive oil compote, coffee bean wafer with chocolate foam

An extra ending course. The cake is apparently made purely from lots of rosemary and butter blended together and baked. It tasted like pound cake with a strong rosemary flavor. The thin wafer was separate, made with yesterday’s used coffee beans: two layers with chocolate in the middle.

I ended with a pour-over featuring Kenyan beans from Swedish roaster Koppi. I wanted to try their coffee since they featured it on Instagram as being specially coordinated with Koppi. It was very light tasting, but without too many complex fruit flavors even at room temperature. The Kenyan pour-over from Metric Coffee in Chicago is much better. And the coffee cost 65 DKK which is quite expensive!

Overall, I feel like I got a good feel for New Nordic cuisine through this meal. As expected, big emphasis on vinegar and fermentation. Some of the flavors were definitely still new to me, which made the taste harder to process. To me, the dishes featuring seafood were the weakest on the menu, as the freshness of the ingredients was masked/distracted by fermented flavors. On the other hand, all of the vegetable preparations were delicious and unique. I am quite satisfied with this meal. I’m also kind of glad I came here instead of Noma: partly because I feel like I’m getting in before the “hype”, but also because I think my enjoyment may have been deterred if I had spent 2-3x as much and not fully enjoyed every single course.

Pity I can’t revisit during this stay in Copenhagen. Next time I want to try their Simplicity Menu: less courses, bigger portions but still same focus on local New Nordic cuisine.

North Pond, Chicago IL

Summer Tasting Menu

Foie Gras, Raspberry Smoked Foie Gras Mousse, Raspberry Jam, Marcona Almonds, Oat Cookie Crumble, Nibs

I was instantly happy upon seeing the first course brought to the table. The mousse was spread generously with a visual delight of toppings sprinkled on top. The raspberries were very fresh (sour), and it was quite fun to scoop everything on top of the accompanying brioche to eat [the brioche at Boka was better though]. The cookie crumble provided a good textural contrast to the very light foie gras mousse.

Tuna, Melon Miso Albacore Tuna, Sake Watermelon, Sesame Slaw, Togarashi Spice, Lime Gel, Shiso

The tuna was seared for a crispy outer while the meat remained rare and tender inside. This is the perfect minimal preparation to let the ingredient itself shine. The sake watermelon was a yellow(!) cube. One of the accompanying sauces had the perfect savory flavor to pair with the tuna, making this a really great dish.

Surprise course Nectarine and tomato gaspacho

Highlighting the fresh ingredients of the season, the cool gaspacho carried the sweetness of the nectarines with a slight tartness from the tomatoes. I really like both ingredients and was even hoping to make my own gaspacho at some point this summer, so this was quite the treat.

Corn, Beans Cornbread Cavatelli, Sweet Corn, Green Beans, Honey-Black Olive Jam, Corn Nuts, Hibiscus

The weakest course of the dinner in my opinion – I could not really taste the cavatelli. The fried corn pieces were nice.

Guinea Hen, Basil Hen Breast Roulades, Striped Shrimp, Herb “Pudding”, Mushroom, Saturn Peach, Bacon, Tomato

A lot was going on here, but the hen breast roulade was the most memorable dish for me tonight. I find chicken breasts quite difficult to prepare truly well, with just the right tenderness. But this breast roulade (probably sous vide) set the standard for tender poultry. The filling added some necessary flavor to the white meat, and one particular bite of the center was extraordinarily juicy and awe-inspiring. I do wish there was less basil sauce though, as I felt that overpowered some of the other aspects of the plate.

Plum, Pistachio Purple Plums, Red Heart Jam Swiss Roll, Sangria Sorbet, Pistachio Meringue, Vanilla

The sangria sorbet really tasted like sangria.


As you can probably tell from my descriptions, I was quite quite happy with my meal at North Pond. The restaurant is located in the middle of Lincoln Park (the actual park) facing North Pond (the actual pond). While we did not arrive early enough to get a seat in the outer room facing the pond (it’s first come, first serve) we admired the view and took some photos before dinner. The atmosphere is really welcoming and casual, and from the moment the first plate was put down, each course just brought a new burst of happiness. The ingredients were fresh and I could taste the playfulness of the recipes, which shone with creativity while not compromising taste and respecting the natural qualities of the ingredients themselves. Plus, the tasting menu is quite “good value” so I definitely recommend coming here whenever possible to taste the season!

Boka, Chicago IL

Summer Tasting Menu

»Abalone • fermented turnips, smoked trout roe

The amuse-bouche of abalone was a good start: the meat was chewy but not too rubbery and the roe provided a splash of flavor.

»Madai Snapper • green coriander, black garlic, dashi, pickled mushrooms

Probably my favorite dish of the night, the snapper was done like a ceviche with a nice dashi pairing, reminding me of a cold summer udon in Japan.

»Tomato • watermelon, sunflower seed, lemon balm

The small heirloom tomato had a gradient of black skin, which is a rare find. The watermelon was compressed (during growth?) so each cube was packed with sweetness.

»Foie Gras • Custard plum, almonds, brioche

The most creative and surprising dish was the foie gras creme brûlée; though the star of that dish was actually the house made brioche which was wonderfully fluffy. I ended up eating the crispy top layer of the creme brûlée separately and then smearing most of the pate onto the brioche after. I am not sure how well the sweet toppings worked together with the strong liver taste.

»Cavatelli • corn, chanterlles, tarragon

The house made cavatelli was very chewy, which is a sign of good handmade pasta. I guess I just wish there was more of it.

»Skate • cucumber, beets horseradish

The skate was slightly breaded/floured, and I am not a big fan of this type of preparation for fish. The meat did has a texture very similar to crab meat, which was intriguing since we missed the waiter’s announcement of the ingredients the first time it was presented.

»Roasted Pork Loin & Belly • burnt eggplant, tomato, onions

The pork loin was tender and a little pink in the middle. I will hazard a guess that it was prepared sous vide. However it was still a very lean cut of meat so the texture was still not as tender as I desired. The belly was very good, with everything melting in your mouth upon consumption. One of the accompanying gels had a licorice-like taste that I took offense to, however.

»Olive Oil Cake • raspberry, blueberry meringue, violet

»Huckleberry • crème fraiche sorbet, coffee cake, speculoos cookie

The crème fraiche sorbet was delicious, but the coffee cake was a bit too sweet.


 

Our meal at Boka was pleasant, with a well-paced tasting menu (no long waits between courses), and a very accommodating waitstaff (they printed out a menu on the spot when I asked for one at the end of the meal). The tasting menu is not preset, so it’s just what the chef thinks goes with the season. Overall, I felt the meal itself was well-prepared good food, but nothing really elicited surprise, astonishment, or pure joy taste-wise. When eating tasting menus, I really look for eye-opening, novel experiences in food, and that wasn’t quite there today. There were also some dishes on the a la carte menu (salt cod ravioli, Peking duck breast, chicken) that I had my eye on, I was a bit disappointed that these were not on the tasting menu. The tasting menu was enjoyable and well-executed, but I did not find it very memorable. So in my opinion, I would recommend going with the a la carte menu at Boka.